How they became the human face of climate change. Research and policy interactions in the birth of the ‘environmental migration’ concept.

François Gemenne,
Cambridge University Press
Type of Publication: 
Language of Publication: 
Year of Publication: 

Access the publication

The literature on the nexus between the environment and migration is relatively recent, mostly dating back to the mid-1980s, a period characterised by asylum crises and major natural disasters.  The nexus has been explored in a variety of different ways, but its two components have mostly been associated in a causal relationship.  A few studies have focused on the impacts of refugee movements on the environment, whereas more recent studies have primarily addressed the impacts of environmental changes on migration flows.


Overall, four themes permeate the lite rature on the nexus: that research is impeded by a lack of empirical studies; driven by a climate change-dominated agenda; abundantly supplemented by ‘grey’ literature; and marked by disciplinary divides.

The lack of empirical research was already evident at the fifth meeting of the International Research and Advisory Panel on Forced Migration, held in 1996, when a ‘disappointingly small number of papers’ on the topic were presented.  During the keynote address of the meeting, Kibreab stressed that ‘research on refugees [had] been largely environmentally-blind […], and that in the absence of a body of empirical research, a number of myths and misperceptions still predominate[d]’ (Koser 1996).  Similar comments still held valid more than a decade later, as identified by Brown (2008) and Kniveton et al.  (2008).  Some progress in this area has been made thanks to the EACH-FOR project, whose conclusions and findings are described in Chapter XX of this volume, but much remains to be done.

Red more